Review published on April 3, 2017.
Night Market is a cracking sequel to Daniel Pembrey’s The Harbour Master. It is the second Henk van der Pol novel. It is pacy with a strong narrative and crisp dialogue that drive the action in this complex and dark tale. It is classic Euro noir.
The Harbour Master begins with the discovery of a woman’s body in the harbour red light district and deals with human trafficking. In three sections, the novel unfolds a complex plot that involves van der Pol’s family, diplomatic/European affairs, drugs and the murky world of pimps and political corruption. If anything the game is upped in Night Market. At the start of the novel, van der Pol wants to put some distance between himself and his boss at the KLPD, the national police service agency. The Minister for Security and Justice, Willem van der Steen, offers van der Pol an undercover job. A small child exploitation team working in Driebergen is looking into a paedophile ring. It is a transnational investigation with a team of detectives from Belgium, Holland, Britain, Germany and Luxembourg. Operation Guardian Angel began with a routine investigation and the serendipitous discovery of two four-year-old boys in the locked hidden cellar of a house in Belgium (shades of the terrible real murders committed by Marc Dutroux give an idea of the dark territory of this novel). The investigation has suffered a blow recently as raids on suspects uncovered nothing and it is assumed one of the team is undermining the investigation. Van der Pol is tasked with infiltrating the team and uncovering the traitor. His Algemene Inlichtigen en Veiligheidsdienst (Dutch security services) minder is his link to the minister, but he is pretty much alone and everyone from the team leader down is suspicious of him. Night Market is told in three sections, with new story lines brought in but ultimately they all link back and the corruption that pervaded the first novel resurfaces here. Solving the crimes will involve van der Pol in putting his own life on the line to get to the truth.
Daniel Pembrey notes in a postscript at the end of The Harbour Master that he began to write about his character, detective Henk van der Pol, when he realised there wasn’t a Dutch Rebus or Wallander. So he set out on the ambitious task of creating an Amsterdam counterpart to those heroes of police procedural serialisation. In my experience, a lot of modern Dutch thrillers in translation, and there are several writers whose work is not rendered into English, seem to be complex literary novels with individual stories. So Pembrey found himself a niche. There is a tradition of detective fiction in/about Holland, but there have been long decades of change since Nicholas Freeling’s van der Valk and A.C. Baantjer’s Inspector Detok policed Amsterdam. So we are long overdue a Dutch detective for the modern world and van der Pol may be the one. Night Market is a modern crime story that gets to the soul of Dutch society and it’s involvement in the wider European sphere.
Night Market can be read as a standalone novel but I would add the rider that this book would be more rewarding if read after the first in the series. There are specific reasons for this: avoiding plot spoilers, understanding the complex character relationships that run from the start of the first book, and there are running elements of the story from The Harbour Master that are resolved in Night Market.
It is clear that Pembrey intends to create a series of novels with van der Pol as the main protagonist and that there is a connectivity and structure within the stories that intertwines the novels. There are three distinct stories in the first book that you realise have an underlying unity as you progress through the novel. Then this book begins ‘Part IV: The Night Market’, so it is clear that Pembrey feels this novel is a sequel. It is the story of the latter career of detective van der Pol, as much as individual cases. Each section naturally flows book to book, a clever and thoughtful structuring make this work. This could become a series to follow, like Rebus, like Harry Bosch, worth looking out for.
In line with a more plausible policing model for the areas of crime van der Pol is involved in, he is not a traditional station-bound detective. A credible picture of Amsterdam emerges, but van der Pol is a rover. Investigations take him out of the city and even out of the country. Van der Pol is a 30-year service veteran and his boss would like to see him retire. He isn’t sure about his own future and his wife Petra wants to pack it in and move out of the city. Yet it isn’t easy giving up the life and van der Pol doesn’t like being pushed around by criminals or by Police Commissioner Joost van Erven.
The novel is narrated in the first person by van der Pol, likeable but also with his own dark corners, his complex relationship with his wife and daughter are established in the first novel and brilliantly exposed here. His family problems are acutely observed and feel very true to life. As soon as his wife hears that the case Henk is considering taking involves child abuse she is against it because ‘that kind of thing in your head and it will change you’ (paraphrasing). Still, he accepts the minster’s offer of the job and it is an instant wedge in his relationship with Petra and his daughter. At heart, van der Pol is a policeman who wants answers, he is determined to get at the truth and is courageous in pursuing the bad guys. He is an easy to like narrator and his world view, not complete, often mistaken drives the plot forward.
The setting of Amsterdam was vividly brought to life in the first novel and Night Market rings with the same authenticity, both in the city and further afield. Pembrey is a keen observer and this gives a colour and texture to the book. The Harbour Master was an assured debut and Night Market is a fine sequel; intelligent, exciting and original. Pembrey is sensitive but honest on a difficult but very relevant topic and the character of van der Pol is now well established. If you are a fan of Rebus or Wallander, check out van der Pol.
Paul Burke 4/3
Night Market by Daniel Pembrey
No Exit Press 9781843448815 pbk Apr 2017
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